Government urged to publish without delay plans for future drinks deposit return scheme

CAROLINE LUCAS MP is today calling on the Government to stop its ‘silence’ on the UK’s drinks deposit return scheme (DRS) and provide clarity on its design and implementation calendar.

A DRS will see consumers pay a deposit on a drinks container upon purchase, which is then refunded once the container is returned. Set to be introduced across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 2024, its roll-out was initially due to be introduced in 2023, but was pushed back a year due to the Covid pandemic, with information about the scheme’s design currently vague.

With industry and consumers increasingly wondering about the future of the scheme, former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP warned urgent details are needed if the DRS is to tackle Britain’s enduring waste crisis. Despite having held a second public consultation on the scheme’s introduction in March 2021, the Government is yet to publish a formal response laying out the design and timeline for the scheme.

Meanwhile, DEFRA has recently delayed the introduction of its Extended Producer Responsibility scheme – a measure where producers are responsible for the treatment of post-consumer products – to take account of consultation responses. Without consistency between, and clear guidance on schemes which are designed to reduce pollution, the Government runs the risk that industry and local authorities will be ill-equipped to see them be successful.

A DRS can be a powerful tool in combating pollution and bolstering recycling rates, but only if it is delivered right, the MP said. It’s estimated some 8 billion drinks containers are thrown away across the UK each year, with around 126 empty containers wasted per capita annually. This sees materials made from glass, PET plastic, and metal cans sent to landfill, incineration, or littering the UK’s natural habitats.

The MP urged the Government to learn from best practice examples of existing schemes in Scandinavia, many of which implement a variable fee model and boast redemption and recycling rates upwards of 92 percent. A variable fee will see consumers pay a deposit that varies based on the size and material of the container. Lucas believes a variable deposit fee will incentivise consumers to avoid purchasing large polluting items which plague the UK’s beaches, such as two-litre plastic bottles. These schemes are also designed to cover a wide-array of materials which have been found littering the environment, being inclusive of glass, PET bottles and aluminium cans.

The Member of Parliament urged the Government to introduce a scheme which mirrors these in a bid to drive recycling rates upwards and address Britain’s chronic waste problem. A DRS in the UK is estimated to improve recycling rates for bottles and cans from 70 – 75 percent to 85 – 90 percent, but this will only happen if the scheme is as comprehensive as possible the MP said. The MP called on the Government to urgently provide more information on its proposed DRS scheme as well as a timeline for its implementation.

Caroline Lucas MP said: “A deposit return scheme can be a powerful tool in helping to end the scourge of plastic pollution, but after years of warm words and consultations, the Government is now curiously tight-lipped.  “What is the reason for yet more delay? We need to see far more detail from Ministers on the introduction of a DRS and how it will be implemented, so industry, local authorities and consumers are prepared once it comes into effect.”

Written by Dominy Jones